Major League Baseball Is Trying To Bring More Women Into Front Offices And Fields MLB is on par with other professional leagues on gender diversity, but women say they still feel the need to justify themselves. "There's a lot to do," says MLB's chief diversity officer.

Major League Baseball Is Trying To Bring More Women Into Front Offices And Fields

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

It's baseball season, and chances are when you look in the dugouts, there are only men. That's also largely true in the executive offices and in the broadcast booths. Major League Baseball is trying to bring more women into game-related roles, but many in baseball say it's not easy. From member station KCUR in Kansas City, Erica Hunzinger has more.

ERICA HUNZINGER, BYLINE: Baseball is a sensory experience.

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HUNZINGER: There's likely bats and livelier crowds.

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HUNZINGER: But one thing you won't hear in Kansas City is this.

EMMA TIEDEMANN: And the 2-1.

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TIEDEMANN: This one is a shot into left field.

HUNZINGER: That's right - a woman. For the Kansas City Royals, you have to go all the way to the lowest minor league team, the Lexington Legends, to find a woman doing play-by-play. That would be Emma Tiedemann, who broke the gender barrier in the Alaska Baseball League in 2014 and the South Atlantic League in 2018. She had a minor league team tell her they wouldn't hire her because of her gender.

TIEDEMANN: Honestly, the time that it happened, I was so taken aback that I was just kind of quiet and walked out of what I thought was going to be an interview just stunned.

HUNZINGER: And it's not just a lack of women behind the microphone. Across all of MLB, the league's front office, its 30 teams and their minor league systems, only 188 women work in baseball operations roles. The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (ph) puts out yearly report cards for most professional leagues. In 2018, Major League Baseball earned a C, about the same as the NFL and Major League Soccer.

RENEE TIRADO: The goal is always to improve the numbers but not improve the numbers for the numbers sake.

HUNZINGER: That's Renee Tirado, major League Baseball's chief diversity officer.

TIRADO: Look. I think - there's no sugarcoating this. There's a lot to do.

HUNZINGER: The Royals have one woman in a baseball operations role, dietitian Erika Sharp. Other people notice it, but she says she really doesn't.

ERIKA SHARP: They all treat me like their little sister. They call me a Little Sis sometimes.

HUNZINGER: Baseball is a family of sorts. Tirado says teams, like humans, value familiarity in the hiring process. And what's familiar is other men.

TIRADO: I know that guy. And guy I mean literally, I know how he works. I know what he does. I know the way he thinks, and it aligns with my philosophy.

HUNZINGER: Josh Stein is an assistant general manager with the San Diego Padres. He's worked in MLB since 2003 and welcomes the effort to bring in women.

JOSH STEIN: Definitely, there was, I would say, a little bit of a gap in terms of women working in certainly, like, the Padres front office. And we've really seen an influx over the last few years of more and more applicants, more and more hires, you know, some women doing great work in our baseball operation.

HUNZINGER: But in all of Major League Baseball, in its 150 year existence, only three women have risen to assistant general managers, the ones who play a big role in a team's personnel decisions. Jean Afterman with the New York Yankees is one of them.

JEAN AFTERMAN: Several times, I was asked to get coffee or asked things that you would ask the secretary.

HUNZINGER: She hopes baseball's growing reliance on data, like predictive analytics and advanced metrics, attracts more women to baseball offices.

AFTERMAN: I've been honored to sometimes be referred to as a trailblazer. But it's pretty exhausting when you've blazed a trail and there's nobody following up behind you.

HUNZINGER: It's the very reason why play-by-play announcer Emma Tiedemann in the minors reaches out to any new woman broadcaster she hears of. She wants more to succeed so that when she makes it to the show, she's just background noise - like a walk-up song or the call of a beer vendor in the section over...

UNIDENTIFIED VENDOR: Miller Lite.

HUNZINGER: ...Just part of the game.

For NPR News, I'm Erica Hunzinger in Kansas City.

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